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Bookstore Owner Turns Author
Kevin Howell -- 1/24/00
Long-time promoter of first-time authors becomes one himself

For the last five years Dwight Currie, owner of Misty Valley Books in Chester, Vt., has been holding New Voices for a New Year weekend celebrations where first-time authors are invited to town to read to and mingle with the public. This year, Currie has a good reason for postponing the January weekend -- this month HarperCollins is publishing his first book.

How We Behave at the Feast: Reflections on Living in an Age of Plenty ($21) is likened by Olivia Goldsmith to "sitting down to dinner with Garrison Keillor on your right side and Miss Manners on your left." It's a collection of feel-good essays that follow the calendar year, using seasons, holidays, folklore and cultural events to explore the way people celebrate their existence.

"Goldsmith told me, 'Don't do more than one hard thing at a time,' and organizing an event for 12 first-time novelists over a weekend with a dinner, lunch and brunch is a very hard thing to do," said Currie, laughing.

The New Voices for a New Year began, said Currie, when author appearances "got to the point of diminishing returns. Since readers were less interested in specific author appearances, we figured that we should try to get a whole bunch of nobodies together and make a big deal about it." It worked. New Voices for a New Year is now one of the premier sites for unknown authors to be discovered. Past participants include Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha), Gregory McGuire (Wicked), Mark O'Donnell (Getting over Homer) and Ashley Warlick (The Summer After June).

Since there is no close airport or train station, getting authors to Chester can be a logistical nightmare. "Most bookstore owners don't usually have to make sure the roads have been plowed leading to the church we hold our big events in," Currie told PW. This year's event hasn't been canceled, just postponed until his own book is launched.

Currie didn't see a galley of his book until he attended the NEBA convention. He remembers signing advanced copies there and later walking past remainder booths and wondering, "Maybe I know too much about this business. I shouldn't be wondering if my book will be remaindered three months before it's even published."

Currie has already had his own first book event for How We Behave At the Feast, at the local Unitarian Church. It gathered in 200 people who bought more than 400 copies. "Sometimes you wonder why authors aren't more excited about their books when they come to your store. Well, now I know. I was pretty much done with the book in June and then six months later you stop what you're doing -- in my case running the bookstore and working on a second book -- and now you have to deal with this 'old news.'" Although he said he felt arrogant standing before people to read from his book ("You always end up halfway through a reading wishing you could write it over again"), after the audience responded, "if I was on an ego trip that day, I was flying first class."

Putting on his author's hat has made Currie more philosophical about his competition. He will soon be autographing at a Burlington Barnes & Noble. "I don't want them in Chester, but I hope they sell a lot of my books in the city," Currie observed. "A rep friend said I folded like a cheap suit." As a bookstore owner, he really has no time for a tour. Aside from visiting local independents, his only other personal publicity is recording monthly pieces for broadcast at a Vermont public radio station.
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